By Helen Breen
Daniel Low & Co. started on the bottom floor of the First Church, Unitarian, 231 Essex Street at the corner of Washington Street in Salem. The jewelry company purchased the church in 1923, elegantly refitting the structure as an appropriate setting for its luxurious merchandise.
Daniel Low & Co. jewelry store was a downtown Salem landmark from 1864-1995. Many still recall its impressive white columns, sparking chandeliers, and wide central staircase. This fashionable emporium was earlier described as “selling high-end items like sterling, gold jewelry, and cut glass that would be seen in the better homes in New England.”
An ambitious and skilled silversmith, Daniel Low (1842-1911) established his business on the ground floor of the First Methodist Church. Entrepreneurial by nature, Low substantially increased his business through mail order catalogs distributed nationally and abroad. By 1892 these catalogs morphed into a 200 page “Year Book” showcasing his luxury wares. Business was good.
THE FIRST PATTERN
On a trip to Europe in 1890, Daniel’s son Seth Low (1867-1939) noticed tourists purchasing souvenir spoons from various cities they had visited. On his return home, Seth commissioned a simple design for a sterling silver spoon with the image of a witch, three “witch pins,” and the word “Salem.” This spoon is considered the first “official” souvenir of the “Witchcraft delusion” sold in the city. According to contemporary historian George B. James in 1891, Salem was becoming a popular destination for those curious about the Witch Trials of 1692. He explained that the three witch pins on the spoon were the same as those “preserved at the Court House in Salem.”
THE SECOND PATTERN
So “popular and profitable” was his first venture, that Seth Low commissioned a second, more elaborate version of the witch spoon in 1891 as the Bicentennial of the Witch Trials approached. Designed by the famous Gorham Silver Company of Providence, RI, the second version featured “the place and date, the cat, the broom, the rope, the witch pins, the new moon, and on the filial, the witch herself.” The new offering was showcased in a 10-page mail order catalog (the first of its kind) sent throughout the country. Low registered the “Witch” trademark as U.S. Patent No. 18,838.
Daniel Low & Company continued to prosper as the center of Salem’s “carriage trade” well into the 20th century. The city was shocked and saddened when Daniel died of a heart attack on the premises in 1911. His son Seth, and later his widow Florence, carried on the enterprise for many years until it was purchased by William Follett who closed the store in 1994.
The building had fallen into disrepair before it was resurrected in 2011 by restaurateurs Kevin Marchino and David McKillop who transformed the property into an upscale eatery called Rockefella’s. In redesigning the space, the new owners preserved the chandeliers, the exterior, and as much the Daniel Low history as possible. In the renovations, the staircase had to go. But Marchino added in a later interview, “At least 10 people come in every week asking about it. The history and impact of this building is bigger than we know.”
And so Daniel Low & Co.’s tradition continues, albeit in a new form, in the heart of the city where the firm is fondly remembered for having created its first official souvenirs – the Salem “witch spoons.”
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